Long before my son was even a maturing follicle in my ovary, mine and my husband’s two best friends decided to get married. She was my freshman roommate in college, he was my husband’s brother-from-another-mother, they met as best man/bridesmaid at our wedding—it was a chick flick story just waiting for Kate Hudson to sign on to the project. They planned a destination wedding in Aruba with events spanning over four days, and nothing was going to stop me and my husband from standing beside them...not even two lines on a pee stick. Despite the realization that our due date was two months before the wedding, we were undeterred. After all, our baby would be seven whole weeks old by then, practically a teenager, and we were going to be totally chill parents who embraced adventure and the unexpected.
The terror did not set in until after C was born and it dawned on us that in just a few weeks’ time, we were scheduled to leave the country with a baby who frequently became over-stimulated by sitting on our front porch. Our anxiety about the trip soon eclipsed the potential for any actual disaster. Whereas at one time in our lives we'd decided on a Thursday to go to Costa Rica for the weekend, for this trip we had color-coded folders with printed tickets, maps, and itineraries prepared weeks in advance. And while for our three-week trip to India we had both stuffed our backpacks about an hour before our flight to JFK, this time we had my mom come baby-sit six days before our departure so we could devote an entire afternoon to packing. Our suitcase had its own carry-on, and we still ran out of diapers by day three. But we survived, and not only that, it was probably the best and most triumphant five days we’d had as parents yet.
In the end, I am grateful that we chose to travel with C at such an early age. We were forced out of our comfort zone, and we learned that our baby was not as dainty and ill-equipped for civilized life as we thought. After Aruba, no lunch out with friends or jaunt to Babies R Us felt daunting. Since that first journey, we have flown with him many times, sometimes even in coach, and I can honestly say that it only gets harder as babies get older, so take advantage of your maternity leave and baby’s day-night confusion and go explore the world. Just don’t forget the Xanax.
A Non-Comprehensive Guide to International Air Travel with an Infant
Suggested Packing List:
- Diapers—To determine how many diapers you will need for your trip, take your baby’s average daily consumption of diapers and then triple it. Put those diapers in your carry-on bag, then stuff another 500 or so in your checked luggage. They sell diapers almost anywhere in the world except on an airplane, and that’s where you will inevitably realize that the change in cabin pressure during take-off has caused your infant to blow an entire week’s worth of poop all over his Florence Eisemann travel outfit. As soon as you experience the triumph and relief of your first successful mid-air diaper-and-outfit change, he’ll do it again.
- Soothers—If your baby takes a pacifier, bring 10 of them. We brought two on that initial trip with C, and the first one disappeared before we were even off the Park-n-Ride bus. The value of the second binky suddenly went from $1.29 to $10 million. I highly recommend those Booginhead pacifier clips to protect your investment.
- Clothes—Pack twice as many outfits as you think you will need for both you and baby. The warm Caribbean breeze may have alleviated some of C’s colic symptoms, but the piña coladas did nothing for his reflux.
- Extra T-shirts—There’s nothing like nursing your baby to sleep during take-off, feeling your lungs exhale for the first time in weeks as you realize you’ve finally made it to this point you’ve been dreading and it’s really not so bad, and then wondering what that warm sensation spreading across your stomach could be. Spoiler alert, it’s pee, and you don’t want to be wearing it when the bride and groom greet you at the resort lobby with an umbrella drink and a camera.
- Ridiculousness—By this I mean that you should pack anything that makes you feel less anxious about your travels. For example, at seven weeks of age, C would only sleep in the Fisher Price Rock ‘n Play—sleeping flat in a crib made him scream like he was being devoured by dingoes. So we bought a less expensive version of the RNP from Bright Start, checked it in its box with our luggage, and then after our five-night stay, we left it behind in the hotel room. Wasteful, perhaps, but it alleviated our fears about sleep, and I’m sure there was a newly postpartum mom in Aruba who didn’t mind our self-indulgence one bit.
Tips for Air Travel:
- Car Seats Check for Free—No matter whether you are a Double Black Diamond Medallion flier with 40 billion airline points or you just jumped off the turnip truck from Mayberry, you do not have to pay to check your car seat with any major US carrier. As for international carriers, I don’t know, do your own research.
- Formula/Breast Milk/Baby Food is Allowed Through Security—Liquids that are intended for infant-sustenance are not subject to the normal 3-ounce limit. However, you do have to pull them out of your carry-on and they may be subject to some weird science experiment conducted by a TSA agent who has not necessarily passed AP Chemistry.
- Embrace the Bjorn (or Ergo or Boba, etc)—If you transport your baby through the airport in a car seat or stroller, you will have to remove him from all contraptions to pass through security. This will result in your baby waking up and being pissed at you for bringing him to a place with florescent lighting, and in all of the other passengers hating you because you still don’t really know how to collapse your snap-n-go stroller while removing 6 bottles of pumped breast milk from your cooler bag and taking off your shoes. You do not have to remove your sleeping infant from a baby carrier—you simply walk through the less-invasive metal detector, submit to having your palms swiped to test for explosive residue on your hands, and then spend the remainder of your trip suppressing the horror you feel about the fate of a species that would potentially use its own offspring as a suicide bomb. * On about 50% of my airline flights, the flight attendant has made me remove C from the Ergo during take-off and landing. It’s FAA regulation because I guess if the mother died during these points in the flight, it would be irritating to have to cut the kid out of the carrier. At least that’s how one especially friendly Delta employee explained it to me moments before taxi. Anyway, you’ve been warned.
- Nurse/Bottle-feed During Take-Off and Landing, Or Don’t—Everyone and her mother and her mother’s dog-sitter and the flight attendants all told me to nurse C during take-off and landing to ensure his ears popped with the change in cabin pressure. However, with its dim lighting and roaring engines, a Boeing 737 is like a sensory-deprivation chamber for newborns, and C fell asleep the minute the safety video began reminding us of how to use a seat-belt. I always follow the adage to never wake a sleeping baby, but if your tiny traveler wakes up screaming as you crest 10,000 feet because he feels like his brains are exploding out of his ears, stick a boob in his mouth and send thanks to God that infants don’t form long-term memories.
- Nursing In-Flight—If you're new to breastfeeding, practice doing it in public before your trip. Babies R Us has nursing rooms and that's a good place to start, but you may want to dive right in and whip out your boob in line at Starbucks. My flying-with-infant outfit of choice was always a nursing tank and a button-up shirt for easy access, along with a scarf for added privacy and style points. You may also want a nursing cover or blanket for breastfeeding in the airport terminals, which can get crowded. Shortly after our first airplane trip, there was a lot of chatter on the interwebs about an employee of a major airline supposedly telling a woman she was not allowed to nurse on the plane without a cover. I nursed C without a cover on about a dozen domestic flights in his first year and never once got the stink-eye from a flight attendant or fellow passenger. I may just be especially charming or have especially uninteresting boobs, but I honestly believe that if you don’t make a deal of it, no one else will, either.
- Diaper Changes—Some airplanes have changing shelves in the lavatories, some don’t. I recommend perfecting the lap-change before your flight. Pack your diaper bag so that your changing pad, diaper, wipes, and a bag are all bound together with a rubber band and accessible with one hand should your spouse enjoy a pre-flight cocktail and promptly fall asleep. Flight attendants are not allowed to handle dirty diapers, so be sure to bring a plethora of plastic grocery bags. I use those rolls of dog-poop bags because they are nearly impossible to tear-off and open with one hand while also keeping an infant from rolling off my lap, and I like a good challenge to keep me sharp. (If your infant is large or your lap is small, try to book an aisle seat so you can change diapers by laying the baby in the seat while you kneel on the floor).
- The Crying Doesn’t Bother Anyone as Much as it Bothers You—My mother gave me this piece of sage advice before that first flight, and like most things that don’t have to do with children's health or safety, she was right. C cried a couple of times on our four-hour flight, and each time I cringed and shushed him with frantic bouncing motions that probably convinced him we were dropping from the sky in a ball of fire. After landing, six or seven nearby passengers made a point to stop and tell us how well-behaved our baby was, and to share their own first-flight experiences with their kids. Turns out that if a baby’s cries do not have a direct impact on a person’s mammary glands, it’s really not any worse than watching an in-flight movie starring Dwayne the Rock Johnson.
Notes on International Travel:
- Passport—Yes, your baby needs one. You can have them expedited if you’re adopting internationally or you’re like us and insane enough to purposefully leave the country with a child under three months of age. Also, don’t bother making an appointment with the post office to have your baby’s photo taken, because the camera is broken and you’ll have to take your shrieking three-week-old across the street in the rain to have a professional passport photographer capture the memory.
- Plane Ticket—For international travel only, you have to pay a fee for your infant-in-arms that is about 10% of the market fare for your ticket. Not the actual cost of your ticket, which in our case was $0 because my husband is a Flying Grand Potentate on Delta and used miles, but the amount the ticket would have cost had he purchased it like the Mayberry people do. Yes, airline logic is only slightly less baffling than the need for hand-explosive-residue testers for women carrying their infant children.
- Car Seat—Because we were not planning to take a stroller to Aruba (C was actually Gorilla-glued to the Bjorn for his first eight weeks of life), and because we only had to be in a car for two total rides during our time on the island, we opted not to bring our car seat with us. One less thing when you already need two pack mules and a Nepalese sherpa to get your luggage to the taxi stand, right? Instead, clever world travelers that we were, we decided to reserve a car in advance to drive us to and from the airport in Aruba, and we asked that they include an infant car seat, a request they happily obliged. However, we quickly learned that not every country follows the US Department of Transportation infant-safety guidelines, and I spent a harrowing 45 minutes trying to secure my tiny baby in the shoebox-and-duct-tape contraption that the Dutch call a car seat before finally clutching him to my chest and putting my faith in my mom-arms to hold on tight. Car seats are a pain in the ass to lug across international borders, but vehicle-related accidents are the number one cause of injury and death in children during travel, so hire an extra sherpa and bring yours along.
If You’re Traveling Alone with Your Infant…
I first flew alone with C when he was six months old, but I think that most of the above still applies to solo travel with an infant, with some additions.
- Ship Ahead—Look into using Amazon’s extraordinary same-day or next-day shipping options to send a case of diapers, wipes, and sundry ridiculousness to your destination in advance to avoid having to become your own sherpa.
- Check Your Luggage—Yes, it’s expensive, but you try going pee in an airport bathroom stall with a baby, a diaper bag, and a roll-aboard and then tell me it’s not worth the $50. However, if you are seriously opposed to giving in to the airline usuary...
- Use Your Stroller as a Luggage Cart—Put your baby in a carrier and use a stroller to cart your diaper bag and suitcase. Just keep in mind that everyone in the security line already hates you.
- Ask for Help—You probably will not have to ask. Every time I enter an airport alone with C, I am flooded with offers of assistance, mostly from business traveler-dads who miss their kids, but I’ve even had grandmothers offer to pull my suitcase from the baggage carousel. On my last solo flight with C I sat next to a famous scholar’s very auspicious wife, and she spent the entire flight entertaining my child with her tray-table. Smile shyly and apologize often and people will go out of their way to be kind.
Websites that Would Be More Helpful if They Weren’t Run by the Government or Government-Subsidized Entities:
- US Passports for Minors
- FAA Guidelines on Child Safety Seats
- TSA Guidelines on Traveling with Children
- CDC Infant Travel Health & Safety (this one will scare the shit out of you and make you consider exchanging your international tickets for a Disney cruise)
US Airline Rules and Recommendations for Traveling with Children
Coming soon...Up in the Air Part II: Air Travel with a Toddler, or Why God Invented Mini-Vans.
Written by: Kathleen